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If you’re scouting for a career school, it’s best to avoid pulling out the Yellow Pages and seeing where your finger lands. A career college isn’t for the vagabond type. It’s a path to your future goals and you should use care in choosing one. If your plans for the future are vague and you want to take a few classes before deciding on a course of study, career schools aren’t the place to do it. There’s not as much wiggle room for mistakes as there would be in traditional universities, four-year colleges, or even most community colleges.

If you shouldn’t use the Yellow Pages to find a career school, then what?

You probably won’t go to the extreme of randomly choosing a career school, but if you’re unsure about how to make a good choice, start by knowing what you want to do. You don’t need to know the intricate details of your goals yet, but you should have a broad idea of what you want, such as a career in allied health or business or IT. Once you make that decision, most career colleges can help you refine your choices.

Look at graduates from various career schools to see your future

Professional training is the main purpose of a career college and its graduates are its best measure of success. The best place to find out if a career college is right for you is at the back door. Who hires the graduates? How do their jobs relate to the career education they received? Career colleges should provide that data to prospective students.

Try on the career school campus to see how well it fits you

Once you’ve gone to the back door to check out graduate success, make your way to the front door and visit each career college you’re considering. Will you fit in as an older student in mid-career or a high school student just starting out? The only way to find out is to go there!

Fellow students aren’t the only aspect of a campus you should check out. The equipment bears close inspection to see if it’s up-to-date. Are there enough computers or other appropriate equipment to go around? Are the buildings comfortable and safe? The program you’re considering should have class schedules that work for you as well as a time frame for completion that suits you. Your bottom line is to make sure the career college will accommodate your needs.

Some career colleges offer online programs (find online career colleges). In these cases, find out what the schools will provide and what you will be expected to obtain. Investigate how you will interact with your instructors and how assignments will be submitted. Will you be expected to travel to the school for your final exams? Make sure that you are comfortable with all of the program’s details.

You should verify if the school is accredited. It doesn’t necessarily have to be, but accreditation helps ensure quality. It also means that you can qualify for federal loan programs, which is a definite plus if you need help covering the cost of your education.

A checklist for visiting a career school campus

When you head out the door to check out campuses and make your final choice, take this checklist of dos and don’ts with you:

  • DO find out what the institution has to offer in student services, such as career placement and assistance in finding housing.
  • DON’T assume that if a program isn’t exactly what you want, things will work out.
  • DO pay close attention to the college environment, noting things like how you’re greeted when you walk in the door.
  • DO look at who is on the advisory board. Knowing who is included will give you an idea of the kind of employer you could be working for.
  • DO determine if credits are transferable.
  • DO read and understand everything you sign.
  • DON’T enroll without a high level of commitment.
  • DON’T think a career education automatically ensures you a job.

Choosing a career college doesn’t have to be a grind. With the information you gather and many good schools to choose from, you can get on the right track to having a receiving a great career education and meeting the goals you’ve set for yourself.